His shivers racked his rail thin body, his teeth violently chattering against one another, causing his head to pound and his jaw to ache. Henok curled his small body tighter to the body of his best friend, Abal, who slept closest to him, feeling the trembling from his friend’s body as well. He pulled at his tattered clothing trying, without success, to make them cover more of him. If he could just get warm then maybe he could sleep. Bodies lined either side of the street, and the concentrated smell of urine was strong. Henok knew that one of the younger boys sleeping near him must have peed, not wanting to wander from the safety of sleeping in a group. Even at nine years old, Henok would do the same and allow the morning sun to dry his wet pants. The humiliation of wet pants was better than the horrible things he knew could happen to him away from the group of boys he slept with.

Men shouted in the streets, many were drunk or high on chat. Their voices were loud and frightening. Sometimes the men wandered near the group of his friends and loomed over top of them, kicking them and rummaging through their belongings. Henok had grown wise, and he would slit the collar of his shirt and stuff anything small and precious to him in the folds of the collar. He wasn’t so lucky with shoes, and he had had more than one pair stolen off of his feet at night. Whenever the men came, Henok would close his eyes tightly and pray or count until they would stumble away. He curled his aching, dry, mud crusted feet in closer to his body, rocking a bit, squeezing his eyes shut and wishing for the morning sun to hurry and make its arrival. He heard a child crying out in fear, or hunger, or both. Henok remembered how he used to cry himself to sleep every night when he was first forced to the streets by his mother’s new husband. He missed his mama, and her smile, and her shiro and injera. She was such a good cook. His belly began to grind with pain as he remembered the food that was once available to him. He rebuked himself for thinking about her and her food. Now the hunger pangs were intense. Henok licked his dry, cracked lips and thought about the glue that he would sniff first thing in the morning to get rid of the pain in his belly – and his heart. His best friend, older than Henok, and a resident of the street longer, had a stash of shoe glue that he taught Henok how to huff. The glue made life more bearable. The hunger wasn’t as strong and the memories of home and his mama did not hurt so much, the beatings from the police were more tolerable, and he could almost forget about the abuse that he had received from his mother’s new husband prior to running to the street. Yes, tomorrow, he would huddle with Abal, his best friend, and huff a little glue. The thought brought him small comfort, as he wiggled on his spot on the rocky, cold concrete. His back and hips ached, but he was used to that.

Henok closed his eyes and willed his body to sleep, but the bugs crawling over him, inside his shirt, down his legs, and around his head made it impossible. He clawed at himself, scratching at the bites, and making his dry parched skin bleed. His skin itched, his belly burned with hunger, his teeth chattered in the cold, and his head ached. The hopelessness blanketed him, and tears pricked the corners of his eyes. Angrily, Henok swiped them away, and bit down so hard on his lips that they bled. He sucked at the warm blood and finally fell into a restless few hours of sleep, until an adult sleeping near him began to cough violently, and the cycle of trying to fall asleep began again for Henok.

As the sun rose over the city, making it glow and warm, Henok stirred and stretched and rubbed his weary brown eyes. Exhaustion overwhelmed him, and although the sun was beginning to warm him, and the next few hours would be safer for him to sleep than the night before, Henok needed to work. If he didn’t work, he wouldn’t eat, and as it was he had only had a few pieces of stale bread over the course of the past three days. He needed to work today. Knowing this put a pit in his stomach. Abal was sitting up now, as well. Henok asked Abal for the bottle of glue. He knew he would not have the courage to face the day ahead without it. Abal pulled a bottle out of some plastic bags and huffed some himself for a few minutes. With glazed eyes, he handed it to Henok, who did the same. It only took a few minutes for the light headedness to take over and for Henok’s body to feel lighter and warmer. The hunger pains subsided, and he felt listless and calm. He felt numb, and to Henok, this was one of the best feelings in the world. He could have sat there all day numb to the world, his surroundings, and best of all numb to the pain in his heart. Abal collected himself and pulled Henok to his feet. They had to work. They walked together towards the shops and the faranji (white people).  When they were close to the shops and the crowds of tourists, the young boys split up, and each began roaming the street ready to charm the tourists. They had rehearsed and were skilled at picking out faranji who would have pity on them. Henok looked down at his dirty, tattered clothing, and knew that while the clothing were not enough to keep him warm at night, they would only help him during the day.

Henok looked across the street and saw that Abal was already busy. He sighed to himself, and began searching the crowd of white faces. His eyes landed on a young couple. The woman’s rings sparkled in the sunlight, and the man’s watch screamed of wealth. Perhaps the man would like to impress the woman with his humanitarianism. Henok licked his lips, and strolled over to the couple. They ignored him at first, so he followed them, but when they entered the tented shop, he stayed outside. He knew he was not allowed inside the shop. He watched them as they purchased jewelry, scarves, and African carvings. His stomach turned with anticipation, he may need to be patient, but he was willing to stick with this couple. As he watched them shop, he rehearsed the lines in his head and the story he would tell today. He knew that in order to get pity and help, he needed to present himself as an orphan. From watching them, Henok decided to approach the woman first. All the men in his life were untrustworthy, and this man would no doubt be the same. As the young woman walked out of the shop, Henok tapped her shoulder and turned his soft eyes to hers, he lowered his head and eyes, and whispered, “I so hungry.” As he touched four dirty fingers to his cracked lips. Even with a language barrier, this sign was understood by faranji. “Please give me one birr. Please buy me bread.” The woman looked into his eyes, and he could see the pity and perhaps even disgust.  He tried to ignore the humiliation burning inside of him. “You’re so beautiful.” He continued. “My mother and father are dead. Aids. Please, I so hungry.”  The woman reached into her bag and pulled out a birr and a wrapped granola bar. Henok grabbed them and said, “thank you.” The couple turned away having done their good deed, not thinking twice about the young boy.

He walked quickly around the corner, and stuffed the coin as deep into his pants pocket as he could, before the other beggars saw, and swallowed down the odd tasting granola bar, hardly chewing it in the process. He started wandering again, calculating in his head how much more he needed for a meal, praying that he could get enough so that at least he could lay down tonight without the pain in his belly. The first couple gave in easily. Sometimes Henok had followed a faranji for thirty minutes or more, getting nothing in return but a beating from one of the police officers dressed in blue. As he walked looking for his next target, he thought about school and the fact that he had not been back in weeks. He would have to repeat the second grade again. Hopelessness settled into Henok’s bones, as his eyes met the eyes of the homeless adult man with the outstretched hand begging faranji for birr. This is what his future held – a life on the street begging. He spotted a mama with her baby on her back, and his heart felt like it would explode with desire to be loved again. Henok sucked in a shaky breath and searched the crowd for Abal. The pain was coming back to his heart, and he needed just one more huff of glue to numb it away.


{While this is a fictionalized account, all of the details are true to life for a child living on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.}


If you read and share nothing else from Mercy Branch Inc., will you please read and share this one post? It is because of the 150,000 children just like Henok that live on the streets of Addis, and the hope and mercy we have to offer because of Jesus, that we exist as a ministry. Please know that when we are here begging for a monthly supporter, it is not to line our own pockets, it is to get us to these children. It is a cruel reality that what separates us from getting to them and loving on them in big ways is simply money. But we continue to pray that Jesus is so near to these children and protects them, while we are here fighting with every ounce of our being to get to them. We will find a way to get to the Henoks. Please search your heart, and see if God desires for you to be part of that way. You can find our secure giving link here.

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